Rail campaigners and community leaders today urged Gazette readers to back our campaign to restore Blackpool’s dream of a direct rail line to London, vowing: “We’re behind you all the way”.
Councillors, MPs, transport groups and tourism bosses have all thrown their weight behind our On Track To The Capital drive to lobby rail bosses to reverse their decision.
Network Rail announced on Tuesday it had thrown out the Virgin plans because the West Coast Main Line was already overcrowded and extra routes would make matters worse.
But today campaigners on the Fylde said restoring the route, which was axed in 2003, is vital if Blackpool is to continue to expand.
And it would provide a huge economic and tourism boost to the resort as well as Kirkham, Poulton and other areas.
Campaigners say the link would bring millions of pounds, thousands of extra visitors and the expansion of businesses across the Fylde coast.
And, left disappointed by the announcement, they are eager to back our campaign do something about it.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden has called on readers to “bombard” Network Rail with correspondence to make their feelings known.
He said: “People can write directly to the Secretary of State for transport and say how appalled they are - not just about the decision, but the excuses (Network Rail) are offering.
“We’re not going to get electrification of the line until 2016, that means that any useful add-on in the mean time that expands the ability of people from Blackpool to travel to London, but also the ability of visitors and business people to come here is a vital element in the revitalisation of our whole economy.”
Coun Christian Cox, who represents Squires Gate on Blackpool Council, will submit a motion at the council’s next full meeting in support of our campaign.
He said: “I’ve always been a strong believer in getting the London link back to Blackpool because it would be a big boost to the town.
“We’re a prime seaside resort with millions of visitors a year but no direct link to London.
“I was very frustrated and disappointed to see Network Rail had derailed our plans and feel the town needs to fight this all the way to make them rethink.”
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “No-one should doubt how important a rail link is to Blackpool. Electrifying the line, as we are doing, is crucial, but we need trains to run on it too.
“Network Rail argue there is no space for the service. Yet all Virgin are doing is diverting a Lancaster service to Blackpool, so the only new track being used by that service is when the train turns left north of Preston – and that line has plenty of spare capacity.
“Network Rail have got this well and truly wrong, and I’m disappointed in them. I whole heartedly support what The Gazette is trying to do and will help in any way I can.
Eric Ollerenshaw, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, added: “The campaign has got my total support.
“I was looking forward to a train which went directly to Blackpool with a stop at Poulton which would help my constituents immensely in Fleetwood.
“I’m already working with neighbouring MPs to see if anything can be done.
“We are talking about meeting the minister and seeing what other pressure can be brought to get to the bottom of what’s happened and what’s gone wrong.”
Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn said: “When I go to meetings in London which I have to do quite a lot, I get on the train at Preston and the carriages are full of councillors, civil servants and businessmen.
“We should be writing very firmly worded letters and we’ll be working with the town’s MPs and the train operating companies to try and support them in persuading Network Rail they’ve got this one wrong.
“People can write to their MPs and me because the bigger volume of support we can claim, the better.”
Ben Wallace, MP for Wyre and Preston North, said: “I have asked for an urgent meeting with Network Rail and will seek to work with Parliamentary colleagues of all Parties from across the Fylde coast in order to get this decision reversed.”
Coun Alan Marsh, chairman of Fleetwood Town Council, says the announcement will have an impact on Fleetwood.
He added: “It’s a blow because it would’ve been an ideal situation for a new line from Fleetwood to Poulton which took them on to London and it would’ve been a tremendous boost for the economy.
“We need 21st Century transport and distribution if we are going to have successful businesses and this would’ve been ideal.
“I’m totally behind The Gazette’s campaign and we need to see what pressure we can exert.”
As well as the boost for Blackpool, trains would have stopped in Poulton and Kirkham and Wesham stations on their way in and out of Blackpool.
Network Rail’s decision has also left those communities upset at the potential loss of business from the capital.
Coun Liz Oades, mayor of Kirkham Town Council, said: “I’m extremely disappointed but not surprised by Network Rail’s decision.
“They don’t seem to recognise anything in the north west that needs some funding.
Kirkham trader and councillor Elaine Silverwood, who runs SilverDell books, said: “It’s ridiculous for Network Rail to come out with a public statement months ago to say they are going to do it (the link) when they could’ve done their background research before saying it.”
Geoff Ogden, secretary of Poulton and Wyre Railway Society, said: “To me it seems a lost opportunity for the whole of the Fylde area.
“You can add our names to the pile and we’ll be behind The Gazette’s campaign.”
John Bailie, from resident group Concerned Residents of Poulton, added: “It’s just such a disappointment, particularly with all the investment in Blackpool and town centre redevelopment.
“The massive catchment and passenger figures evident on the Fylde coast, and with Blackpool being the UK’s prime resort, surely we should justify this service.
“The research behind Network Rail’s decision should be analysed.”
What Virgin Trains thinks...
Arthur Leathley, Virgin Trains’ communications director, is himself from the Fylde coast and no stranger to standing on platforms at Preston station, waiting for links to Blackpool.
He said: “We have long recognised the potential opportunities for running services to Blackpool and still believe there is potentially a market there.
“We are very disappointed in the decision which has been made. We welcome the fantastic support we have had from The Gazette. We still hope we can make changes to this decision.”
He said it was vital Gazette readers back the campaign.
“It is important,” he said. “We can set out the operational issues about timetables and how the service will fit in, but what the ORR will consider is the economic argument and why Blackpool needs a direct service, so it is really important people set out their views. I think any major town – and Blackpool is a major town – needs to have connections. We know the value of train travel in helping economies prosper. We know train links help reinvigorate local economies.”
Network Rail’s response
Following the launch of our campaign, Network Rail today refused to comment further on the decision to reject Virgin’s plans.
A spokesman said: “Given Virgin are appealing this decision it would be inappropriate for us to say anything else.”
After rejecting the plans on Tuesday, the company said: “Today there are twice as many trains using the West Coast Main Line as a decade ago and, just like a busy motorway during rush hour, more trains means if something goes wrong, the knock on effects can be significant.
We have acknowledged that performance on the West Coast line is not good enough and we are taking steps to improve performance on the route.
“However, adding more services on to what is already the busiest mixed use railway line in the UK would mean a trade off with punctuality.”